Constructed of mainly aluminum and glass, the Aluminaire House was cutting-edge when it debuted in 1931. Designed by A. Lawrence Kocher, editor of Architectural Record, and Albert Frey, known as the father of Desert Modernism, the Aluminaire House garnered recognition in its day and now will continue its prestigious history as part of the Palm Springs Art Museum.
The First of Its Kind
The Aluminaire House was designed as a prototype and was the first all-metal building in the United States. The prototypical residence both embodied and emboldened principles that are the hallmarks of the Mid Century Modern movement: Using affordable materials with an eye to form, function and mass production.
The stark design of the all-metal house made a splash upon its 1931 debut. Visitors flocked to the exhibition, and in 1932, the Aluminaire House was included in a 1932 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Persevering at Preservation
Despite the house’s architectural importance, the home fell victim to neglect. Architect Wallace K. Harrison purchased the Aluminaire House. According to the Aluminaire House Foundation, “After years of poor maintenance, the severely deteriorated structure became at risk for demolition in the late 1980s. A concerned group of preservationists, led by architects Michael Schwarting and Julio M. San Jose, Dean of the New York Institute of Technology, saved it, dismantled it, and arranged for it to be donated to the school for their campus, where it was restored and reassembled by architecture students with Prof. Schwarting.”
Another hurdle arose, however, when the campus where the reconstructed Alumnaire House was stored, closed. “The house was again dismantled in 2012 and put into storage in New York where it languished in a shipping container. Schwarting and Campani were invited to Modernism Week several years ago to present on Aluminaire. To an auditorium full of architectural enthusiasts, they presented their story […]. That day, an idea was hatched by a core group of local ‘believers,’ who thought Palm Springs would make the perfect home.”
Destination Palm Springs
The committed folks at Modernism Week were onto something. Palm Springs is in fact the perfect home: Albert Frey’s firm co-designed the original Palm Springs Desert Museum in a previous location (the Art Museum as we know it today was designed by architect E. Stewart Williams). Frey’s architectural stamp is evident throughout the desert mid mod haven. The Aluminaire House Foundation shipped the disassembled house to Palm Springs and donated it to the Palm Springs Art Museum, where, pending approval from the city, the reconstructed house will stand permanently.
In celebration of the Aluminaire House and Albert Frey’s architectural legacy, the museum is also planning an Albert Frey exhibition for 2021-22.
Learn more about Albert Frey, his design for the Salton Sea yacht club in Palm Springs and Desert Modernism.